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TRW to Expand Plant for Future Avionics

May 20, 1986|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

TRW will invest $50 million in a state-of-the-art, military avionics manufacturing plant that could create as many as 400 jobs at TRW's 48-acre Carmel Mountain Ranch complex, company officials said Monday.

TRW, which has 650 employees at the facility, picked San Diego from a list of at least six other cities, including San Luis Obispo, Tucson, Phoenix and Colorado Springs, Colo.

San Diego was chosen because "it offers the preferred life style for our employees and a strong labor, educational, technical and management pool," according to Robert L. North, vice president and general manager of TRW's Los Angeles-based Electronic Systems Group.

About two-thirds of the new employees probably will come from San Diego County, North said, adding that a newly hired plant manager from Tampa, Fla., will arrive in June. Most of the new hires will be professionals with college degrees.

"This is a tremendous third-party endorsement of San Diego," said Dan Pegg, president of the San Diego Economic Development Corp., which in 1981 played an integral role in persuading TRW to build its Carmel Mountain Ranch facility. The operation opened there in 1984.

The proposed 125,000-square-foot addition to the complex was prompted by the company's "plan to increase and strengthen its role in tactical electronic systems," said North, who described the project as a "factory of the future that will manufacture high-performance systems (that are) reliable, maintainable and affordable."

Although TRW announced the expansion plan Monday, ground breaking will not occur until the fall of 1987, and the highly computerized plant probably will not begin production until 1991. TRW believes the highly automated plant is necessary if the company is to compete successfully for "the next generation of avionics systems," North said.

Those systems will incorporate the "very high-speed integrated circuit technology" that only recently has worked its way into military applications.

TRW will design the plant to produce small batches of extremely complex avionics products, the military equipment that helps pilots communicate, navigate and identify hostile aircraft, North said.

When the plant is fully operational, it will produce about $300 million in revenues, company officials said. Currently, workers at the Carmel Mountain facility work largely on military avionics prototypes that are then manufactured by TRW Colorado Springs.

Monday's announcement probably signals TRW's decision to compete against larger, more-established avionics manufacturers, according to Hal Gershanoff, editor of the Journal of Electronic Defense, based in Dedham, Mass.

Although Gershanoff credited TRW with enjoying a reputation as "a superior, advanced technology (company) that's working on pushing the state of the art, I don't think of TRW when I think of avionics. Bendix and Rockwell are the ones that come most to mind."

Gershanoff said major defense contractors such as Bendix and Rockwell are competing for contracts to develop the technology that will make the next generation of avionics possible.

TRW is playing an active role in that research, but "they're a long way from production programs" that would utilize the manufacturing plant announced Monday, Gershanoff said.

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